The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in three cases Monday, including the Texas redistricting controversy [transcript, PDF]. The court agreed last month to hear an emergency appeal [JURIST report] challenging an interim map drawn up by the US District Court for the Western District of Texas while a separate map drawn up by the state legislature is currently being challenged in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official websites] for compliance with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Two of the cases are titled Perry, et al. v. Perez, et al. and will deal with the Texas state House and the US congressional delegation, respectively, and the third case, titled Perry, et al. v. Davis, et al., deals with the Texas state senate. It was unclear Monday how the justices would decide the case, but they must act quickly, with the 2012 primary elections approaching.
In Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] can enforce a compliance order issued without any opportunity to contest the order. The Sacketts own land near Priest Lake, Idaho, on which they intended to build a house. After purchasing the property and obtaining local permits, they began to grade the land for construction of a house. They received an EPA Administrative Compliance Order that said the grading of the land was in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) [text, PDF] and imposed harsh civil penalties for non-compliance. The Sacketts disagree that their property is a wetland under the meaning of the CWA. The case raises the issue of whether the CWA precludes pre-enforcement judicial review, and if so, whether that violates the petitioner's Due Process [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [opinion, PDF] the dismissal of the suit. The justices appeared skeptical of the EPA's arguments Monday, with Justice Samuel Alito asking the EPA's lawyer, "if you related the facts of this case as they come to us to an ordinary homeowner, don't you think most ordinary homeowners would say this kind of thing can't happen in the United States?"
In Kappos v. Hyatt [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on patent law. When the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) [official website] denies an application for a patent, the applicant may seek judicial review of the agency's final action through either of two avenues. The applicant may obtain direct review of the agency's determination in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit under 35 USC § 141 [text]. Alternatively, the applicant may commence a civil action against the Director of the PTO in federal district court under 35 USC § 145 [text] The court will decide whether a plaintiff in a § 145 action may introduce new evidence that could have been presented to the agency in the first instance. The court will also consider whether, when new evidence is introduced under § 145, the district court may decide de novo the factual questions to which the evidence pertains, without giving deference to the prior decision of the PTO. The Federal Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that "§ 145 imposes no limitation on an applicant's right to introduce new evidence before the district court."